Is Reynaldo Lopez a future ace? His manager thinks so.
Lopez might not be the biggest name in the White Sox rebuilding effort, with much of the pitching hype going to Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen, even to Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease. But what Lopez is doing at the major league level shows he’s got as much of a chance at starring in that crowded rotation of the future as anyone.
Friday night’s six innings and three runs in the White Sox series-opening loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers was far from Lopez’s best moment in a season that’s gone very well for him to this point. He gave up nine hits, one off his season high, and only struck out three opposing hitters. But he kept the White Sox around long enough for Omar Narvaez to tie the game with a three-run homer after he threw his final pitch of the evening in the sixth.
A shut-down performance it was not. But it was quality, certainly by the statistic and perhaps by many other measures. It was his sixth quality start in his last eight outings, and it’s that consistency that’s made him the team’s best starting pitcher this season.
It’s part of what makes Rick Renteria see a future ace.
“Right now, he’s scratching at the surface of what he can be,” Renteria said before Friday’s game. “He’s got the makeup. I think his mound presence when he goes out there — at the beginning of the season, we would have moments where he would hit or miss in terms of what we thought his intensity level was like before the start of a game — but he’s been much more focused and committed to what he’s going to be able to do in terms of attacking the opponent.
“It has shown in his last few outings, and the way he’s approached his pitching, he’s gotten us deep into ballgames, minimized damage on the other side. He continues to mature. I think his confidence level is really growing. I think you put that together with the ability to repeat a delivery, use all your pitches whenever you want to use them, if you command the zone as he has been. He’s got a chance because not only does he have stuff, he has the ability to command that stuff.”
Renteria, in describing a variety of White Sox starters this season, has talked about the ability of a pitcher to keep the damage low, to hang around and eat up innings, as signs of growth and signs of quality contributions. It sounds simple enough: Prevent the other team from scoring a bunch of runs and make it so the bullpen doesn’t have to throw a bunch of innings. Sounds like the bare-minimum requirements of a starting pitcher rather than the definition of a front-of-the-rotation guy.
But you can’t have one without the other. It’s been upsettingly obvious to White Sox fans how certain young pitchers haven’t been able to accomplish those tasks this season. It shows that Lopez is perhaps ahead of the game in his development while his contemporaries continue to go through more visible growing pains.
Reliability has been the name of the game for Lopez, who after Friday’s start owns a 3.35 ERA and 10 quality starts on the season. Only 16 pitchers in baseball have recorded double-digit quality starts this season.
“That’s part of it. Like today, grinding through when the game first started, the first couple of innings. You are going, ‘Man, he got a little deeper into his pitch count.’ You are wondering if he was able to get through it.
“He was able to just kind of magically get to the sixth inning with 97 or 98 pitches. So, he gave us a chance. He truly gave us a chance.”
Lopez is happy to have the confidence and the praise of his manager. Giving your team a chance to win, that’s the goal for pitchers, and that’s what Lopez has been doing on a start-by-start basis. He also happens to think things have gone well.
“Those words make me feel proud, especially coming from Ricky,” he said through a translator. “I work hard every day to try to improve, to try to do my best every time that I have the opportunity to go out there to pitch and perform. It’s good when you hear those comments about yourself. That’s a motivation because you see that people are noticing what you’re doing and all the work that you put in day in and day out in this sport. And especially for me this season, it’s been a very good season.”